Festival Intelligence: Event activations go immersive and personal | M&M Global

Festival Intelligence: Event activations go immersive and personal

With millennials (aka “the experience generation”) craving experiences over products, events and experiential marketing is no longer simply considered a luxury add-on for marketers. Brands are increasingly allocating more of their marketing dollars to creating memorable live events and brand sponsorship activations that immerse consumers in their world in meaningful ways.

The statistics speak for themselves. Research from Bizzabo shows that 80% of marketers believe live events are critical to their company’s success and 95% agree that live events provide attendees with a valuable opportunity to form in-person connections in an increasingly digital world. At the same time, further consumer insight from EventTrack highlights that 98% of event attendees feel more inclined to purchase after attending an activation and 98% of them create digital or social content at events and experiences (with 100% sharing the content).

Creating a sharing mechanism is something that was highlighted in the Festival of Media North America Awards 2018 shortlist, with social media and interaction forming a key part of the overall content experience in the ‘Best Event, Experiential or Sponsorship Activation’ category.  

The category was dominated by entertainment brands, with the remaining shortlisted entries from the food & drink and automotive sectors. By country, there was an even split with three entries from the US and three from Canada to make the final shortlist.

Some of the key themes we can draw from across the best brand or sponsorship activations entries were “immersive”, “emotional” and “authentic” experiences, which were at the heart of all campaigns. The spread of activations included TV sponsorship, sports sponsorship, a museum exhibition sponsorship, and a globally-renowned film and music conference activation.

Creating shareable moments is one of the biggest advertising objectives of recent years and this is driven by the rise in social networks. Unsurprisingly, a core element of all activations was social media surrounding the live event to create a buzz around the event or sponsorship. The campaigns used a range of techniques including influencers, emojis, memes and GIFs to generate meaningful, emotional, in-the-moment content for shared experiences.  

Twitter’s head of brand strategy in the US and Canada, Ryan Oliver, recently highlighted a number of brands that “won” Twitter in 2018, including Budweiser, Heinz, KFC, Nike and Tide. He said: “These brands understand their objectives and the audience they are going after. We help them make that connection.” He then went on to note an uptick in brands live-streaming content and using short-form video as a key marketing tool on Twitter.  

Brands who interact with consumers by combining the power of one of the oldest marketing channels (experiential/events) with new media (social networks) can create shareable moments and positive, emotional connections that don’t just win over customers’ hearts – but their wallets!

We put the spotlight on two winning entries from the Festival of Media North America Awards 2018, which highlight this trend:

SXSWestworld | HBO | Giant Spoon | US

Shortlisted for: Best Event, Experiential or Sponsorship Activation (WINNER)


Fans of entertainment properties are constantly looking for ways to immerse themselves deeper into the worlds of their favorite shows. To build momentum and buzz, HBO wanted to develop an emotionally resonant experience that brought guests into the centre of the new Westworld series narrative—igniting the fan base, introducing the series to new consumers, and demonstrating that at a conference focused on technology, there is value in tangible human experiences in an increasingly virtual world.

To accomplish this, the agency transported guests to the centre of the story to generate an emotional and resonant connection with the series. The park became a massive content generator where thousands of guests could share their unique experiences with the outside world. While its AI hosts were armed with guns, the guests were armed with cameras, creating advocates for the series who could provide reach at a global scale.

The three-day event ran at SXSW from March 9-11 between the hours of 2-10pm daily. It took four months of planning, five weeks of on-site construction, and nearly 60 vendors to bring SXSWestworld to life. Guests entered the park through the actual train from the series and could explore 16 structures—including iconic establishments from the show—across 90,000 square feet of space. Similar to the series, the technology worked behind the scenes to provide a personalized experience for each guest.

Racing the Sun | Volvo Cars | Mindshare | US

Shortlisted for: Best Event, Experiential or Sponsorship Activation, Best Branded Content led by Digital Channels (WINNER)


Instead of focusing on hard metal, flashy colors, and price wars, Volvo turned to storytelling. The master-brand campaign “Embrace the Future” focuses on technology, an astronaut, and the bond between two people regardless of distance, remaining connected through technology. The launch of the XC60 needed to tie into the master-brand campaign with its own short story that: lifted awareness with luxury buyers, ignited perception changes, and activate conversations on the Volvo brand.

Leading up to the US eclipse, searches for “eclipse” spiked within all major metro areas and “eclipse fever” was spreading. The insight: awe makes people open to new ideas and creates new affinities. However, Volvo’s luxury buyers primarily live within coastal metropolitan communities, which was not in the path of the eclipse. It would bring that experience to them. Volvo would launch the XC60 by live-casting the eclipse of the century. It would outfit the XC60 with 360-degree cameras and create a brand association with one of the most talked about, most photographed and first major astronomical event in the US in the era of social media.

In “totality” the media plan drove reach with VR toolkits for retailers, activation across digital leading up to the event, and an immersive two-hour 360° live-stream in 4K resolution and VR programming digitally broadcast worldwide on CNN, as well as social content and paid search. Four influencers who embrace change built up excitement leading up to and on event day. Included was the female astronaut who inspired the master-brand campaign. All with the XC60 at the centre of the action.

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